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Advances in BBS Observational Tactics

A common complaint among companies that have been implementing behavior-based safety is that, over time, there is a distinguishable loss of interest – among all employees – leaders, managers, supervisors, and frontline employees. The robust energy exhibited in the first few months has deteriorated; the observations, meetings, and interest have devolved into a monotonous routine.

At every conference I hear BBS champions and Safety Managers voicing the same request: “Do you have any ideas about how we can give our BBS process a ‘shot in the arm?’” BBS processes in which observers are enlisted voluntarily suffer more conspicuously than companies that have institutionalized their BBS process as a job requirement and a “condition of employment.”

As an aside, I believe that BBS processes should be voluntary until employees are familiar with the process and have refined and customized tactics to functional efficiency. At some point you have to ask the question, “If BBS is essential to ensuring our employees work more safely, then we need to make it mandatory.”

Safety training, job safety analysis, incident analysis, accident investigation, hazard identification, safety audits, safety policy, permits, emergency response – all these practice and many more are not considered options; they are institutionalized and mandatory components of safety management.Similarly, observations – work sampling for safety – should be an essential and obligatory part of safety management.

Getting back to the issue of how you can reenergize your BBS process, in previous blogs I have suggested some alternatives:

  • Performance Observations – use observer skills to identify behaviors that add value to quality, productivity, teamwork, reduce waste and more.
  • Employee Initiated Observations – allow employees to spontaneously initiate an observation of a coworker and record those data
  • Emergency/Critical Task Observations – identify situations, tasks, conditions that are rare but possible.Allow observers to watch employees doing drills for their particular circumstances
  • Workgroup/Team Observations – use observers to watch teams working together routinely or during intermittently scheduled non-routine events like plant shutdowns for major maintenance

I have just added the last observational practice, and I am aware that some companies are already doing observations of work group “results” as well as behavior.For the most part, BBS observations are based on predetermined checklists that are developed based on data review of incidents and injuries.

The variations I am suggesting are within the skill sets of properly trained observers – that is, observers who have been trained to discriminate, define, and identify specific, observable behaviors and provide a written description of that behavior in a way that allows others to make an observation using that description. If your observer group thinks that “has a good attitude about safety,” is a behavior you are on a slippery slope.

A well trained observer group should be able to watch an individual or team task being performed and identify value-added behaviors, list them, and communicate that list to other employees.If one employee does one thing that saves time or product waste, a trained observer should be able to discriminate that behavior and pass it on to other employees – thereby saving the company time and money.

Many companies do not know enough about Behavioral Technology to ensure that their observers are more than “list-checkers. ”If your observer training class does not include a strong section on how to identify behaviors from non-behaviors, then your observers are not going to be able to add value to the observational process by identifying behaviors that will create a safer working environment.

You should be able to provide the following assignment to your trained observers with the confidence that they will be able to do it effectively:

“Warren, would you and Mary do an observation of the shift-change in Head Stack Assembly. I want to see if we can identify any behaviors that can be changed or added or deleted to decrease wasted time and improve the hand off. We’ve been having some operations problems that seem to be related to communications, but I want you two to observe what they are doing and saying and let’s see if we can smooth out the process.”

If properly trained, Mary and Warren should be able to handle this assignment without any problem. They should be able to come back with a list of specific behaviors that employees can say or do to make things run more smoothly, cut out waste, and improve efficiency. Once the list is developed, then it can be used as a checklist by everyone involved in the shift change or it can be used by the observers in a formal way – to do observations.

Safety observations of individuals working together – looking for coordination, cooperation, task alignment, proper sequencing, and peer support are logical applications of observer skill sets.The use of observational checklist on individual workers performing task sequences is important, but only one application of the observational process; limiting your observers to this application creates boredom, disinterest, and is a waste of the resources and investment you’ve made in observer training.

If your BBS process was properly implemented, then your steering committee can meet with a selection of observers and organize the proper tactics for implementing any one of the 4 suggestions bulleted above.Behavioral Technology is about understanding how to identify value-added from wasteful behavior in an organization.

Six Sigma, Lean, and many other initiatives seek to eliminate waste and increase quality and service levels. BBS is based on the application of Behavioral Technology to safety and the identification of a safe from an unsafe behavior is one use of its principles. Challenging your observers to apply their learning to other organizational performance opportunities is a key to maintaining their interest and enthusiasm and ensuring that your company receives the highest return on their investment.